Mississippi bills cover cargo theft, truck contracts, CDL renewals

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 2/22/2016

Multiple bills under review in the Mississippi Legislature cover issues of significance to professional drivers.

One bill is intended to deter the theft of truck, rail or container cargo through stiff punishment.

The bill from Rep. Steve Massengill, R-Hickory Flat, would establish cargo theft as a specific offense and impose felony charges with escalating fines and punishment based on the value of goods.

According to FreightWatch International, in 2015 Mississippi ranked in the top 20 of states in the number of cargo thefts. Florida, California, Texas, New Jersey and Georgia are in the top five.

OOIDA says legislative efforts to deter cargo theft are a step in the right direction to help protect truck drivers and their property.

Mike Matousek, OOIDA director of state legislative affairs, has said in most cases of cargo theft that owner-operators would effectively be out of business.

“In the short term, without equipment there is no way to make money and in the long term they might lose business from a freight broker or motor carrier,” Matousek said.

In an effort to discourage thefts in the state, offenders would face prison in addition to monetary penalties. Specifically, thieves who steal cargo from trucks loaded with controlled substances, or pharmaceuticals, valued at less than $10,000 would face fines up to $100,000 and/or up to 10 years in prison.

Theft of controlled substances valued up to $1 million could result in as much as 25 years behind bars and/or fines up to $1 million. Loads valued in excess of $1 million could result in prison terms as long as 30 years and/or fines up to $1 million.

Violators of other property heists valued as much as $1,000 would face misdemeanor charges. Theft of cargo valued as high as $10,000 would include fines up to $100,000 and/or 10 years behind bars. Stolen loads valued in excess of $10,000 could result in 20 years in prison and/or fines up to $1 million.

Another provision in the bill covers fifth wheels, and any antitheft locking device attached to the fifth wheel. Any attempt to alter, move or sell a fifth wheel could result in 10-year prison terms and/or $100,000 fines.

The bill, HB595, awaits consideration in the House Judiciary B Committee.

A separate bill in the Senate would prohibit indemnification clauses in trucking contracts. The clauses are set up to protect shippers or hold them harmless from anything that happens with a shipment.

Sponsored by Sen. Dennis DeBar, R-Leakesville, SB2459 would outlaw provisions in contracts that provide for shippers to be indemnified for losses caused by their own negligence and make them “void and unenforceable.”

Matousek says the legislative effort is a reasonable and fair solution that will prevent all parties to a transportation contract from granting themselves blanket immunity.

Mississippi is one of seven states, and the lone state outside the Northeast, yet to adopt protections from the unfair clauses.

Affected contracts in the Magnolia State would be defined as a contract between a motor carrier and a shipper covering the transportation of goods by motor carriers, entrance on property to load, unload, or transport goods.

Other bills of interest at the statehouse include the following:

  • HB430 would authorize commercial vehicles to bypass inspection stations if they are “unable to completely exit a highway, road or street due to a vehicle obstruction when reaching the exit lane for the inspection station.” Affected drivers would be required to stop at the next inspection station along his or her route.
  • HB237 calls for making possible CDL renewals throughout the state. The Department of Public Safety would be required to to certify at least one renewal location in each county.
  • HB166 would provide weight and size exemptions for commodities transported to or from terminals or port facilities on the Tombigbee River or Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The exemptions could not exceed federal limitations. Exempted loads would be required to stay within counties with a bridge crossing the Tombigbee River or the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Also, the Mississippi DOT must issue a permit specifying the route within the county that the truck could travel.
  • HB821 calls for prohibiting commercial vehicles from traveling on state Highway 29 through the city of Ellisville. Local deliveries in the community northeast of Hattiesburg would be exempt from the travel ban.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Mississippi, click here.

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